Phil most certainly is one player who is fondly remembered by Dragons fans. He arrived at Broad Lane in July 1989 having completed his second spell with Colchester United following a career that had seen him play for Millwall (whom he joined as a 15 year old and had two spells with), Wrexham, Exeter City, Aldershot, Chelmsford City, Dulwich Hamlet and Myllykoski PA47 in Finland where he helped them win the First Division Championship.
(Phil challenges the Kingsbury Town defence on his debut.)
The original plan was for him to play at centre half, the position he started in during the pre season games whilst scoring two headed goals from corners. His First Team competitive debut came in a 1-0 league victory at Kingsbury Town on 19/9/89, however, an unfortunate injury to Jeff Hull saw Phil pushed into midfield after just three matches into the season and he immediately responded with a goal against Harwich & Parkeston in a 2-0 F.A.Cup win on 2/10/89. Seven days later two more goals came in a 4-1 league win over Walton & Hersham, both scored in similar fashion as driven corners by Lil Fuccillo were flicked on at the near post by Paul Price and John Lacy for Phil to charge in and power past the keeper into the net. This became a successful routine throughout our Isthmian League First Division Championship year and Phil’s brave diving headers amidst the flying boots earned him the nickname of “Geronimo” amongst the Dragons fans behind the goal. Thanks to this cavalier approach in the opponent’s box he finished the 1989/90 campaign as second highest scorer with 28 goals to his credit. Off the field he also became coach of the club’s Under-18’s the same season.
(Coleman lets the Harwich keeper know he is there in the opening minutes)
Four goals in a 10-0 pre season thrashing of Takeley showed that his goalscoring feats were to continue during the course of the 1990/91 campaign as he netted 18 times. There is no doubt that part of Phil’s appeal to the section of the Wivenhoe faithful with more dubious moral standards was his uncompromising style of play which brought a spectacular number of cautions in the opening weeks of our first term in the Premier Division and saw him suspended by the end of September !!. This actually worked out quite well for him as he had also picked up the first of a series of injuries which were to unfortunately plague his Dragons career from that point onwards.
Phil was back in the side for the visit of 2nd placed Kingstonian on 31/10/90 and he netted a hat trick in a 6-1 hammering of the “K’s”, only the bar denying him a 4th goal on the night. Along with the injuries he continued to get more bookings than Butlins and by late January had earned himself a second ban. His return to the team in a superb 2-0 F.A.Trophy win at Enfield lasted just 63 minutes before he was sent off for what he later described as “handbags at two paces” with Steve Mosely (although his next dismissal was a smack in the opponent’s mouth from six inches at Bishops Stortford !!). So, yet another three match ban came his way which, because of postponements due to snow, meant he missed our big F.A.Trophy tie at Colchester United. This is something that Phil regrets and we have no doubt that a fully fit Coleman would have improved our chances of pulling off a Cup shock.
(“Geronimo !” Typical Coleman….in amongst the flying boots against Staines Town. This effort hit the bar)
Following the mass departures of May 1991 Phil took over as Player/Manager of the club and had to rebuild a squad virtually from scratch. The time and effort he put into the task deserved much more reward than the eleven straight defeats suffered before he stepped down on 8th October 1991. It spoke volumes for his character that he was willing to remain as a player and he put in many excellent performances as the Dragons eventually pulled clear of danger and clawed their way up the table. Indeed, he also impressed the opposition’s fans as shown by this comment from Enfield’s fanzine Talk Of The Town End …….”Coleman came out on top with a superbly arrogant performance which culminated in the last five minutes with an interception and nonchalant back pass over the head of an Enfield forward while simultaneously waving to the crowd !!”.
By the time the 1992/93 campaign began Phil was less than 100 per cent fit through injury, but this was not the only factor to limit his appearances that season as a “disagreement” with the Manager over footballing opinions saw him out of the team and briefly loaned to Braintree Town. Back in the Broad Lane fold again by late November he scored four goals in three games as he was pushed up front to partner Robbie Reinelt before injury struck again. He eventually returned to full fitness to be a major player in helping avoid relegation by the skin of our teeth on the very last day of the season at Yeading.
(Phil dives to head home a goal in the 4-0 victory at Whyteleafe)
Work commitments and injury limited him to just 23 appearances throughout the 1993/94 campaign, although one particular incident that season cemented his place in Wivenhoe Town folklore. During a 0-1 defeat at Wokingham Town he sustained a cut to the head for the second successive game in a clash with an opponent, played brilliant, ended the match being stretchered off with a suspected broken ankle, spent the entire journey home laid out on the back seat of the coach encased in more ice than a fossilized woolly mammoth, refused to go to casualty, and was last seen hobbling off into the night muttering that he was “bloody well going home to have me tea” !!.
Although he started the 1994/95 campaign he suffered another injury in the second game of the season (plus he didn’t quite see eye to eye with the manager) and that was all but the end of his Dragons career. Phil pulled on a Wivenhoe shirt for the 211th and last time the following season when he made a surprise appearance as a playing substitute to help out an injury ravaged team in a 0-2 home League Cup defeat to Purfleet on Tuesday 9th September 1997. Of course he has been a spectator at Broad Lane countless times since over the years and his son Liam was also a quality player for the Dragons. What more can I say apart from there was never a dull moment with him around. Cut heads, chipped ankles, bruised ribs, 53 goals, playing passion, and a bit of on field aggro thrown in…..cheers Phil, thanks for the memories.
(ABOVE: Wivenhoe Town Under-18’s 1989/90 coached by Phil who finished 4th in the Eastern Junior Alliance League and Runners-up in the EJA Floodlight Invitation Shield.)
(BELOW: The Under-18’s squad who achieved 3rd place in the league, won the EJA Floodlight Invitation Shield, and finished Runners-Up in the Ingilby Paints Cup. Steve Lowe, Kenny Vincent (who was surely cautioned for that shirt !!), Scott McInnes, Scott Ridgers, Paul Rook and Gary Craig (not pictured) all went on to become First Team regulars at one point or another.)